Truce

“During World War I, on and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between enemies.”

That’s what the website history.com says about one of the last acts of chivalry and decency between sides during a war. It’s become known as “The Christmas Truce of 1914.”

If it were in my power, I’d declare a truce. In this season of Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward All People when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince of Peace I’d declare a truce:

  • A truce in every place throughout the world where one group of human beings targets another group of human beings – anywhere there is war or armed conflict, hate, or animosity;
  • A truce in the worldwide war on terrorism. A truce that would compel all terrorist organizations to lay down their weapons and, correspondingly, all countries and groups defending themselves against the threat of terrorism;
  • A truce for police officers who seem to shoot first and ask questions later. I say this as someone who has the utmost respect for the police and all first responders who put their lives on the line while serving the public. I try to understand the pressure police officers live with while on the job. I try to imagine what I would do and how I would respond if I were an officer. Truthfully, I don’t know how I would respond if it seemed someone might want to harm me. My faith compels me to seek all possible solutions before ever considering deadly force against another human being, but as a police officer in the heat of the moment I don’t know how long I would have to try to pursue those possibilities. Likely, not long. Split-second decisions with life or death hanging in the balance aren’t common for most of us. Police officers make them, and live with the results, far more often than I. None of the recent killings of people encountering the police that have gained notoriety are simple, open and shut situations. I just wish there weren’t so many killings;
  • A truce in race relations here in the United States. No more hate. No more discrimination. Instead, love and good will for one another. If you don’t have real relationships with people of a different race or ethnic background than yours, you might be part of the problem here. Get to know some folks who are different than you. Share a meal, worship together, get to know them. You’ll find there are far more things that make us like one another than there are things that make us different;
  • A truce in the ever intensifying, ugly, disrespectful war of words otherwise known as the 2016 Presidential Campaign. ‘Nuff said; and, finally
  • A truce in the so-called war on Christmas. This truce would compel all professing Christians to exhibit the joy of the season in all their interactions with others because of the reason for the season (Jesus). If someone wished a Christian “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” the response would be a bright smile and a cheerful voice responding with a “Thank you, and Merry Christmas!”

Every time I pray I include a prayer for peace on earth, remembering the words to the song: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

That’s where peace begins, in the hearts of those who follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I continue to pray that there will be peace on earth and that it will begin with you and me. Merry Christmas!

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Prayer and Peace

Saying yes to peace is easier said than done. Let me offer a personal example.

Sunday morning, November 1, just after the completion of the monthly men’s breakfast at the Tabernacle United Methodist Church one of the men came to my study (I’m the pastor of the church) with a woman who was asking for help with gasoline in order to return to her home in western Georgia. Since the church has a voucher agreement with a nearby convenience store I went into the adjacent office to get the necessary form. With an open door between the two offices I felt at ease leaving the woman in my study. It took about one minute to walk back through that open door, obtain the necessary information, and escort the woman back to the parking lot where her fellow traveler was waiting in the car.

About ten minutes later my wife came into my study, looked on the small table that sits between two chairs on the other side of my desk, and asked, “Where’s my tablet? Andy, where’s my tablet?”

By the end of the question the second time the pitch in her voice had raised considerably. We both looked around only to come to the sinking conclusion that the woman who had come asking for assistance had stolen the tablet, probably concealing it under the coat she wore.

I’m sorry to confess that my first thoughts toward that woman after realizing what she had done weren’t peaceful. My wife was visibly shaken and visibly shaking. She was hurt and upset. Her thoughts toward the woman weren’t peaceful, either.

Law enforcement was called. Statements were given. A case number was assigned. As I write this nothing else is known.

Returning for evening worship that night the crowd was exceptionally small. A storm was blowing through at just the wrong time for attending, so most didn’t. Instead of the sermon I had planned I asked instead if anyone had something they’d like to share about how God had been moving in their lives recently. To my great surprise my wife’s hand shot up like a rocket and she began to share without any further encouragement from me.

She briefly relayed the details of the morning’s theft for those who hadn’t heard. Next she shared how her initial reaction was one of anger. She went on to tell how she had made the entire situation a matter of prayer throughout the day. As she did so, and opened her heart, mind, and soul to God, she found her feelings softening as God gently spoke to her about the transitory nature of possessions. Tablets are just another possession that can be replaced, she said, and God had brought her to a place of peace about the whole thing.

Words cannot adequately express how proud I was of her at that moment. It also reinforced for me the connection between prayer and peace. Without an intentional investment of our time and spiritual energy in prayer we will never find peace. Not for ourselves. Not for our communities. Not for our world.

I praise God that my wife prayed intentionally and fervently. I praise God’s faithful response in granting her peace. Because she is at peace I, too, am now at peace.

Say yes to peace.

Taking the Hard Way Rather Than the Easy Way

The option for violence always seems to be easier for most people and most nations than the option for peace. If it weren’t I don’t believe there would be so much violence in today’s world. Darfur, South Sudan, Blue Nile, Palestine/Israel, South Korea/North Korea, Afghanistan, the Congo. These are just a few of the current situations around the word involving armed conflict or the threat of such.

In a blog I follow, United Methodeviations by Rev. Dan Dick, he wonders why peace is so hard ( http://doroteos2.com/2013/05/17/why-is-peace-so-hard ). One reason I believe it’s so hard is because people aren’t willing to do the hard work of making peace.

To make peace both sides have to be willing to acknowledge the humanity of the other side and to offer them the respect and civility all human beings created in the image of God deserve. Our own members of Congress here in the United States can’t seem to get past this one and they’re supposedly on the same side and working toward the same goals (think common good here). Little wonder that people at genuine enmity with one another see this as difficult at best and mostly impossible.

In order to make peace each side must be willing to admit their part in the conflict. Neither party is totally innocent. Both have played a part in bringing the situation to the place where peace needs to be made. Each side has harmed the other side in one way or another and until those harmful words or deeds are confessed there will be no peace. But how we seem to loathe to admit any wrongdoing on our part, at least I do. Our pride presses us to hold the imaginary high ground on which we have deluded ouselves into thinking we stand. So we point fingers and hurl unflattering names back and forth, while peace languishes on the sidelines. Then we blame the other for not negotiating in good faith. How our Lord must shake his head and grieve as he watches.

These are just two of the things that make for peace. Much else is required.  Peacemaking asks all parties to live and behave as citizens of the kingdom of God. Love God. Love your neighbor. Treat others like you want to be treated. Given the tenets of human nature and the predominant culture those things are hard work. It’s work best done with the help of, and faith in, our Triune God. I, for one, believe the work is well worth the effort.

Let there be peace on earth.

Peace, Not Slavery

Women and children around the world are being lied to and manipulated, then placed into situations where they’re treated as less than human. Some are forced to work extremely long hours, many times in unsafe conditions, for little or no pay. Others are forced into prostitution.
Why? Money! Lots and lots of money! Human trafficking is a $31 billion per year industry.
The United Methodist Women’s Human Trafficking Fact Sheet offers the following staggering quote: “Human Trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and is the second largest criminal industry in the world after drug trade.”
Those who are oppressed and exploited by the trafficking industry routinely use threats and violence in order to keep their victims under their control. Many are physically abused, in addition to the other abuses they suffer.
How does this continue to happen in our world today? Why is the peace and well-being of over 12 million people destroyed? And why does the ordinary American citizen know so little about this tragedy?
Perhaps we don’t want to know. Perhaps we would rather believe that the problem of human slavery ended 150 years ago. It didn’t. There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history.
My prayer is that God’s people will rise up and fight against this form of evil that is so prevalent in today’s world. How true the words of 1 Timothy 6:10 are. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (NIV)
May our love for our neighbor be stronger than our love of money, or cheap labor, or cheap sex.
May we say no to violence and Say Yes to Peace.

Violence Won’t Get It Done

A friend of mine, Don Winslett, shared a blog post from a freind of his with me. It’s a response to the Boston Marathon bomber. I thought it was inspiring and, with the permission of the original author, I’m sharing it here.

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MESSAGE TO THE BOSTON MARATHON BOMBER

 

On a good day for running, with the race over for some and others still in it, Martin Richard runs to hug his victorious father at the finish line. No, his dad didn’t finish first, but the little guy knows that everybody who finishes a marathon is a winner.

 

His mom is snapping pictures. His baby sister is with her. He is so proud of his dad, who has just run more than 26 miles. 26 miles! Martin is eight years old. Maybe he will run a marathon, too, when he grows up.

 

But he won’t. He won’t even make it to nine. Someone who never met him or his parents or his little sister has stolen his life away from him and from them. And from us. Martin’s mom is terribly injured, too. His baby sister has lost one of her legs. Trembling with fatigue from the race, Bill Richard got about three seconds of pure joy before this became the worst day of his life.

 

People come from all over the world to run this race. They come by the thousands. It’s a genial affair, a great festival of mutual admiration, preceded by a famous pasta supper the night before for runners and volunteers: lean marathoners tucking into great plates of penne and lasagna — 800 pounds of each are prepared, along with 400 gallons of sauce, 600 pounds of meatballs and 200 pounds of mozzarella.

 

I don’t know who did this or, why, but whoever it was thinks he’s accomplished something good for his cause. Name me a political cause that will be furthered by the sacrifice of this little boy. Let alone all the injured, the others who died. Name me a cause that violence has aided. Name me just one. Because I’m not coming up with anything.

 

I do know one thing: when violence and death visited the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, it seemed to some of us that the games could not go on. But they did go on, and they continue still: the world pauses appreciatively to watch the best of the best compete, fair and square. That terrorist attack accomplished nothing for the Palestinian cause but to engender suspicion of it, distracting attention from its legitimate longing for justice. When Timothy McVeigh reduced the Murrah Federal Building to rubble, taking 168 men, women and children with it, he did not succeed in rallying the rest of us to his cause, as he seems to have thought he would. We recoiled from him. The 9/11 attacks did nothing to engender world support for radical Islamism or anti-Americanism, although the two wars in which we have engaged since then have: the expectation that they would make the world “safer” was pure fantasy. They have further endangered all of us, at the cost of a quarter million human lives.

 

You, who set those bombs along Boyleston Street, whoever you are, listen up: I don’t know what your cause is, but your violence isn’t going to win it. It will get you exactly the opposite of whatever it is you want.

Copyright © 2001-2013 Barbara Crafton – all rights reserved

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Pope Celebrates World Day of Peace

The 85-year-old pope rang in the new year with a mass for about 10,000 people in St Peters Basilica on the day the Roman Catholic Church marks its World Day of Peace with initiatives around the world.He also spoke of peace after the mass, addressing tens of thousands of people who had followed the service from outside in St Peters Square.”A new year is like a trip. With the light and the grace of God, may it be the start of a path to peace for every person, every family, every country and for the entire world,” he said from his window overlooking the square.He thanked the worlds peacemakers, saying they deserve praise for working, often behind the scenes, tirelessly, thanklessly and armed only “with the weapons of prayer and forgiveness”.Peace marchers carrying rainbow banners released blue balloons in a sunny but cold St Peters Square as the pope spoke.

via Pope Slams Capitalism, Inequality Between Rich And Poor In New Years Message.

This article also reported that the Pope connected outbreaks of violence with food insecurity and the growing global disparity between the rich and the poor. I tend to agree.

Enough!

The following is an excerpt of the sermon I preached on December 16, 2012, the Sunday following the shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, CT. The Scriptural basis for the sermon was Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

One of the biggest mistakes we could make in our response to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is to say to ourselves, probably more to comfort ourselves more than anything else, “Oh, that’s up there in Connecticut. That’s a long way away. Things like that don’t happen here.” While I pray that you are right about something like that not happening here, my guess is that some of the people of Newtown, CT have said in the past something like, “Oh, that’s way out there in Columbine, CO, or way down there in Blacksburg, VA, or that’s over there in Amish country, in Nickel Mines, PA. Those places are a long way away. Things like that don’t happen here.” And after each of those equally tragic campus shootings, after feeling terribly upset about the children and young adults who lost their lives in those equally senseless events, after offering prayers for the families of those who died they went back to their normal existence and did nothing special to try to ensure that something was done to change the circumstances and the culture that have somehow come to view this kind of violence as just another thing that happens in places somewhere far away.

But in Newtown, CT today, right now, there are people whose lives have been unalterably changed. The town itself will never be the same. People will think differently. People will behave differently. And some people will say to themselves, “Enough! I will no longer participate in a popular culture that glorifies violence, and I won’t allow my children and/or grandchildren to participate in it either. I will turn my television to channels not filled with violent programming, channels that have something socially redeeming to watch, or I’ll simply turn my television off if I can’t find that kind of programming. I’ll no longer buy or play video games where the blood flows and the shooting and explosions and crashes of vehicles treat human life as if it were worth nothing, nor will I allow them to be bought by my children or played in my home. I’m giving up any kind of music that devalues other human beings in any way. Not only that, but I’m going to do everything I can possibly do to see that kind of popular culture come to an end. I’m going to change, and I’m going to find others who are willing to change or have already changed and, together, we’re going to change our culture.”

My hope is that there will be many others around our great country who will join them, including some of us. Because, friends, as far as I can tell we’re beyond the point of simply going on with business as usual. That would, I hope, be especially true for the people of God. How many children, how many of those little ones whose guardian angels look continually into the face of the Father, how many of them have to die before we say enough is enough. And please don’t trot out your partisan political arguments on this one. I might lose my religion if you do. If I hear one more television commentator or see one more email, or tweet, or Facebook post saying something like either, “It’s time to get serious about gun control,” or “When guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns,” I think I might lose it. Most of those filling the airwaves and the cyber world with those kinds of comments don’t care one iota about those precious children or their grieving families. They’re only trying to score political points, and using a tragedy such as this for those petty purposes makes them devoid of love and caring for their fellow human beings as far as I’m concerned.

All I know is that Jesus said clearly that those who choose to live by the sword will die by the sword, and our popular culture seems to have chosen to live by the sword with its love affair with violence. All forms of media and entertainment are filled with it. Movies, television, gaming, music, sports, you name it and the more violent it is the more it sells. And we, the people of God, gobble it up as fast as those who claim no God at all. Then we expose our children to it and wonder why they behave the way they do. Duh!

We’ve got to change, friends. We’ve got to repent, and feeling bad about something isn’t repentance. Feeling guilty isn’t repentance. Saying we’re sorry to God for something isn’t repentance. Repentance is a change of heart with an accompanying change in behavior. In this season of giving gifts, let’s give to God our repentance for our participation in the popular culture of violence in which we live. Let’s change and then find others who have changed and, together with them, let’s change the culture of violence that surrounds us. Let’s change ourselves and our culture so that one day, and one day soon, the guardian angels of precious children won’t be looking into the face of the Father in heaven with tears of sorrow and sadness flowing from their eyes because their special child was gunned down or in some other way a victim of a culture of violence that devalues human life.

I hope you’ll join with those who’ve made a new or renewed commitment to establishing a culture of peace. It happens one person at a time.

Will God’s people be God’s people?

Sometimes I wonder about God’s people. I’ve been a United Methodist pastor for twenty-six years now, and I’m still utterly confused sometimes by the beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes of some of the people who claim to be God’s people. Perhaps I expect too much. After all, the church is and always has been made up of fallen human beings who live in a fallen creation.
On the other hand, the church has always had the witness of Scripture to point the way to God through the church’s Lord and Savior, Jesus.
I can’t help but think as I write on December 22 that the church of 21st century America isn’t such a great example of the One whose birth we celebrate in three days. Among other names Jesus was known as the Prince of Peace, and some of the Christmas carols sung by the church proclaim the idea of peace on earth.
But have you paid attention to the news lately? There seems to be an awful lot of violence in our culture these days. The recent deaths of twenty-eight of our fellow human beings in Newtown, Connecticut in a hail of gunfire is only an exclamation point on America’s love affair with and culture of violence. But what about Jesus? What about the Prince of Peace? What about “peace on earth, goodwill toward humanity”?
When the majority of people I know bristle at the thought that America is not a Christian nation, where are God’s people who make up this “Christian” nation and why are they not clamoring for peace and living in ways that make for peace?
When it comes to being faithful disciples of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, will God’s people be God’s people?
I believe that God’s people will be God’s people, and that through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through God’s people America can be transformed into a culture of peace.
Amen.